The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Monday, August 12, 2002


From the Cabalmaster:

This and successive sections summarize the Japanese experience with monorail techology.

We TransitCabalists admit to being opinionated cusses, and so we'll state right here up front:

Monorail is not appropriate for "general-purpose" application in the U.S. Other modes cost less to build and operate, do not require full grade separation (e.g. intrusive elevated structures throughout), and use standard "off-the-shelf" hardware.

In addition, monorail has acquired something of a "miracle-mode" cachet in this country -- especially in Seattle. Despite the claims of monorail boosters, we are not convinced that monorail is "better, faster and cheaper" than conventional rail technology.

Now that we've said that, monorail bashers will probably not want to continue. The Japanese experience proves that the technology is workable and reliable, that there is such as thing as a working monorail "switch" (or whatever else one wishes to call it), and that monorail can be applied in a variety of urban / suburban transport markets ("New Types of Guideway Transport," by Kanji Wako and Akiira Nehashi, Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 26, February 2001; see:

But monorail boosters also need not read on, for Japan is no monorail heaven. The technology has been used only for special-purpose applications, there is little prospect for any significant expansion beyond what is now under construction, and "private-sector" financing is a polite fiction.

We'll "set the stage" with a few facts about the "competition" -- private autos.

Gasoline in Japan costs roughly $3.50 - 4.70 per gallon. Most autos are very small by U.S. standards, (there are even mini-SUVs!), and so high gas prices inflict relatively less "damage" than would be the case here.

Free parking is rare to nonexistent in large cities. Metered on-street parking -- when available -- costs about $1.70 per hour. Large high-rise parking structures charge $2.50 - $5.00 per hour. Most hotels, some restaurants and most department stores provide free parking for customers. American-style parking lots, at suburban retail outlets and mini-malls, has proliferated rapidly over the past 20 years. This sort of development tends to be found around smaller cities and towns, where land is cheaper.

There are no "freeways" in Japan, where expressway tolls are very high. The flat toll for travel on the Tokyo metropolitan expressway network is about $5.80. In Nagoya, the flat toll is about $5.40). Intercity expressway tolls (and "intercity" includes Tokyo to Yokohama, for example) cost roughly $0.20 per mile.

Therefore, that weekend getaway to Kyoto, about 325 miles from Tokyo, will cost about $75 for tolls alone -- each way. This compares to about $110 one-way by shinkansen (high-speed train), or about $70 by local train (possible, but lengthy). Bridge tolls are also very high. The new "Tokyo Bay Aqualine" bridge-tunnel charges $25 per car, or $20 for a small car. However, a bus serviice crossing the same bridge (Kawasaki to Kisarazu) charges less than $12 passenger.

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